Putting First Things First
Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness— Mat_6:33
Necessity of Order
The more narrowly one looks on life, the more one sees the necessity of order. The quality of life largely depends on the right ordering of its interests. When our Lord said, Seek ye first the kingdom, He was not speaking with contempt of other interests. He who had been the Carpenter of Nazareth knew that man must toil for daily bread. He was enforcing that infinite love of order which Fenelon noted long ago as one of the characteristics of His life. The land of the shadow of death, says Job, is a land of darkness without any order (Job_10:22). In that ineffectual and dreary realm things are tossed and tumbled in confusion. But He who came to give us life abundant insists upon the ordering of our interests, and says to us, Seek ye first the Kingdom. Put first things first, and life is like a melody. Virtue is love's order, says St. Augustine. Put secondary things in the first place, and life goes down into the glen of weeping. It is that condition of victorious living which the Lord is emphasizing in our text.
Putting First Things First
This divine necessity for order might be illustrated from many spheres. One might think, for instance, of the student. When a student enters a class of the humanities there are two ambitions he may set before himself. He may be bent on grasping the spirit of a literature, or he may be bent on the securing of a prize. He may be eager to enrich his being through converse with the immortal dead, or he may covet his name upon the prize list. Now there is nothing mean in seeking to be a prizewinner. It is a perfectly laudable ambition. Even the great apostle of the Gentiles had an eye to the prize of his high calling. But whenever the thought of prizewinning comes first, when it becomes the dominating passion, then the student misses that enriching which is the peculiar gift of the humanities. It is not a case of intellectual failure. It is really a case of moral failure. Putting what should be second in the first place induces a certain blindness of the heart. A man is out of touch with a great literature, as he is out of touch with a great God, when self has the first in his program.
A Doctor Should Put His Patients, Not Fees, First
Again, we might illustrate this need of order in our various callings and professions. Take, for instance, the man who is a doctor. The difference between a good and a bad doctor is not that the good one never thinks of fees. If he never thought of fees he would be a fool, for the laborer is worthy of his hire. The difference lies in what the man puts first, in what is primary in his profession, in what is the dominant interest in his calling. Let a doctor put the thought of money first, let his first consideration be his fees, and, for all the brilliance of his gifts, he is unworthy of his high vocation. But let him put his patients in the first place; let his primary ambition be to heal, and then, though he be ignorant of brilliance, he is an honorable member of his calling. The strange thing is that when a doctor puts the fees first, his character invariably degenerates. Probably he is half-conscious of it, but other people are not unconscious of it. Something goes—some-thing is always lost—some touch of what is brotherly and beautiful, and lost through the disorder of his interests. He is not sinning as a drunkard sins. He is only putting first what should be second. He is perfectly entitled to his fees. He is not entitled to give his fees the primacy. And the narrowing that always follows upon that, and the sneer with which common people talk of it, is a tribute to that perfect wisdom which inspires the moral teaching of our Lord.
People, Not Things, Should Be Our First Consideration
I think, too, the world has yet to learn this lesson in our industrial and commercial life. Take, for instance, the case of some great company. Now, the shareholders in that company have a perfect right to get interest on their shares. Many a lonely woman could not live but for the dividends she gets on her investments. But so long as the thought of interest comes first, to the exclusion of all else, we can never hope to have a Christian country. So long as people insist on a high interest and are careless of how the workmen live; so long as they regard these workmen as simply a means to bring them in their interest; so long, though every shareholder be a respected member of the Church, we can never expect to have a Christian land. Men were not just means to Jesus Christ. The poorest and the humblest was an end. The lowliest toiler was of an infinite value to which the wealth of companies is nothing. And until the common, careless, unconcerned shareholder learns to put first the man who makes the interest, the Kingdom of God is never going to come.